For a look at Paul Madonna’s comics visit www.paulmadonna.com and follow the All Over Coffee link to sfgate.com, which has an archive of All Over Coffee comic strips.
READERSVOICE.COM: Some of your interviews and one of your comics mentions some of the books you’ve read, like Had a Good Time, by Robert Olen Butler, as well as the screenwriting book Story by Robert McKee, and authors like Henry Miller and Margaret Atwood. I was wondering if you could come up with a list of about ten books, fact or fiction, comics or prose, you would have recommended to yourself to read if you could go back in time to when you were about 18.
PAUL MADONNA: That’s a great question, except that I’ve been putting off answering it for days. For several reasons.
One, I can’t be sure I would have responded to those books then, even though I might want to think they would have changed my view or thinking. Some of the books I’d recommend weren’t even made yet, which poses a problem in answering, but I only say that because some of the books were made, meaning, they were available to me, but I didn’t choose them.
There were authors and artists that I’d heard of but wasn’t drawn to. I was into something else, so couldn’t see or hear them. I only think they’re powerful now because of what I currently value in the world and my own work.
There are surely countless creators right now who I’m oblivious to, who I won’t be able to see or hear until I grow or change in a certain way, and when I do, all that I think is powerful now I may disregard.
I wrote on that subject in regard to life experiences in a strip a few weeks back.
At any given time there is an overwhelming amount available to us, in terms of products or art. Again and again I’ll notice what appears to be new, then realize that the person or their work has been around for a long time, that ads for it have been circulating, maybe even the billboard down the street currently has a 30 foot display on the subject. Did that thing come into my awareness because of perpetual publicity? Possibly, but it’s not always the case. I may know of something because of the publicity machine, but that doesn’t mean I appreciate or respect it. Colin Farrell is like that. Who the hell is that guy? I’ve never seen one of his movies and have no idea what kind of actor he is, but every time I hear a snippet of Hollywood, he’s mentioned. So I’ve heard of him. Big deal. I’d rather respect him.
For me, there’s so much out in the world that I get overwhelmed and find myself blocking out rather than looking through everything, then choosing. I think I come to things when I’m ready to see them; when I get a creative appetite, I scan the market for what is appealing. That idea is reinforced for me because some of the things I like I can’t tell you where I first saw them. Some things don’t need to be advertised. Ultimately, work is passed around by people talking about and sharing what they like.
Daniel Johnston, the musician, was like that for me. In the mid- 90s someone passed me a 5th generation cassette. They knew nothing about him, and neither did the person before him. Just rumors, but it was the hauntingness of the music that caused people to say, ‘you gotta listen to this.’
Nick Drake was the same way for me. There was a period in the late 90s where I was replacing all my music on cd. Twice a week I’d buy something I already had and also try something new. I kept seeing Nick Drake’s Five Leaves Left and was drawn to it. Finally I bought it and fell in love.
A couple months later I met my wife—another serendipitous story that comes up later here—and she had the exact same experience with the same album. I don’t know how else to explain that except that I was ready for it.
And maybe our culture was finally ready for it too. I know that, at least in the US, Nick Drake is having a resurgence, more powerful than when he was alive. This was 10 years ago for me, but still.
Stories like this are not new. Why do we love Van Gogh now versus how unappreciated he was in his time? Maybe if Van Gogh would have hired a publicist, more people would have known about him, but would that have meant people would have loved him then? I imagine not; more likely there would have just been more who disliked him at that time.
All that said, here is the list of books on my table right now: Crushed, Jason Fulford; More than Words, Illustrated letters from the Smithsonian archives of American art; Crumbs, short story journal; Schulz, Charles Schulz biography; Austerlitz, W.G. Sebald; The Mysterious Flame of Queen Loana, Umberto Eco; Pure Drivel, Steve Martin; The Third Policeman, Flann O’Brien; Portraits, David Hockney; Freshwater, Virginia Wolff; Edward Gorey.
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-copyright Simon Sandall.